Category Archives: Intermediate-Middle School Chapter Books

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Road Trip by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen

Ben, a 14-year-old boy, his border collie Atticus, and his impulsive father go on a road trip to adopt a border collie puppy. Along the way, they pick up an entertaining group of passengers, including Ben’s older friend Theo, who is a tough guy trying to straighten out his life, Gus, a mechanic who lends them his bus when their vehicle breaks down early into the trip, and a waitress named Mia, who walks out of the restaurant where she was working to join the group after putting up with harassment. Ben is worried about his parents and his dad uses the trip to explain that he has quit his job to start his own business flipping houses and that because money is tight, Ben may not be able to attend hockey camp. The book is narrated by Ben, with Atticus’ commentary added at the end of each chapter. Atticus’ perspective provides added humor and wisdom to this quirky and fun romp with happy endings all around. The book also has a heart, promoting the virtue of dogs and dog rescue and a touching relationship between father and son. This title is followed by a sequel, Field Trip, in which a third dog is added to the family. A great choice especially for boys who may not be big readers and dog lovers.

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The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

This is realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy that delivers a powerful message about being yourself, standing up to bullies, and not conforming to fit in with the popular crowd. Abby is in sixth grade and is neither popular nor unpopular. She sits at lunchtime with what she calls the “medium” girls – not the most popular, but not the least – but she is growing tired of their constant chatter about their looks and their comments about her weight. Abby is a bit chubby, but she is fine with herself. After one comment too many, Abby walks away from the medium girls at lunchtime, thereby earning their wrath and making her the target of their bullying. She meets a boy who invites her to sit with him at lunch and she makes friends with him and another boy who sits with them. Abby is much happier with these friends, who she can talk to and be herself. Abby’s parents are getting on her about her weight also, and she is getting frustrated and angry at people not accepting her for who she is, even her own family. One day, she spies a fox in the field across from her house. The fox bites her and the bite seems to lead Abby to a new beginning. She walks to a part of her neighborhood she has never been before, where she meets 8-year-old Anders, who lives with his grandmother, father, and dog across a creek. Ander’s father, Matt, is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq and so things are difficult for the home-schooled boy and his grandmother. Abby begins spending more time with Anders and his family, helping Matt with a writing project that soothes his PTSD. Helping with this project allows her to help someone else. It also takes her to the computer lab at school, where she makes another new friend, giving her yet more strength to stand up to her tormentors. Abby doesn’t fight back, but just moves on, finding friends who like and accept her, and eventually the mean girls ostracize themselves more and more from their group until they are the outsiders. The fox’s story is also followed in alternating chapters told from her point-of-view, which lends the fantasy to the book. We discover that the fox has a connection to Matt as she learns to find her way in difficult circumstances just as Abby and Matt do.

This is a book of depth, which realistically portrays the cruelty of pre-teen girls towards one another and how parents don’t always understand their pre-teens, even when they have good intentions. Abby is a wonderful character, brave and proud of who she is, finding her true self,  while maintaining her self-respect and making a happy existence for herself.

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Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

This is a realistic fiction chapter book about 11-year-old Elise. It explores the difficulty of the pre-teen years, when children can struggle with their identity as they begin the change from a child to a young adult, and the hardships of middle school, where kids can be so cruel to one another. Elise’s best friend has always been Franklin, but now that they are in middle school, Elise questions her friendship with him when he seems too much like a little kid, which causes teasing at school. She is not a good friend to Franklin and damages their friendship. While struggling with this situation, she discovers that her father, who died of cancer when she was three years old after losing her mother at birth, has left her a series of messages in the rooms of the barn at her aunt and uncle’s house, who have raised her. As she explores each room of the barn, she learns more about herself and who and where she came from. This experience helps her to grow and mature, so she can mend her relationship with Franklin, stand up to bullying, and also make a new friend. Elise has a wonderful, loving family who support her – her aunt and uncle, as well as her aunt’s sister and her baby who have recently come to live with them. These secondary characters really added to the story for me as they helped Elise find her way and realize the importance of family and friends and being proud of who you are instead of changing yourself to try to fit in with the so-called cool kids.

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Gildaen: The Heroic Adventures of a Most Unusual Rabbit by Emilie Buchwald and illustrated by Barbara Flynn

This is an imaginative, enchanting fantasy chapter book published in the 1970s that will appeal to fans of The Hobbit. Gildaen is a rabbit who longs for adventure, unlike other rabbits who are content to stay home. When Gildaen comes upon an owl, he fears he will become the owl’s meal, but the creature turns out to be under an enchantment – he can’t remember who he is, but he has the power to transform into any creature. He transforms into a prince called Evon and Gildaen accompanies him on his quest to discover who he really is. Along the way, they meet Hickory, a servant of the young king, who has been ostracized from the castle. The king is under the sway of an evil sorcerer called Grimald, who is bent on taking over the kingdom. Evon and Gildaen team up with Hickory to save the kingdom and expose Grimald. In the process, Evon gifts Gildaen with the ability to communicate with other animals and transforms him into other creatures, including a cat, hawk, and snake. The group’s adventures are exciting and the ending is satisfying, with happy endings for all the characters and no overt violence, making it appropriate for reading aloud to younger children or independent reading for older children.

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Chasing Augustus by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Rosie has had a difficult year – her father suffered a stroke, they had to sell their house and she is now living in an apartment with her grandfather while her father remains hospitalized, and her cold-hearted and distant mother, who left Rosie when she was a baby, came back just long enough to give away Rosie’s beloved dog, Augustus. Rosie has spent the last year searching for Augustus on her bicycle, failing at school, and clashing with her prickly grandfather, who loves her but wasn’t prepared to be raising a 12-year-old on his own. When Rosie hears a rumor about a dog living with the local recluse, Swanson, the dog’s description reminds her of Augustus. Rose is determined to get to Swanson’s farm and see if Augustus is there. Enter Phillipe, a boy being fostered by Rosie’s neighbor, whom Rosie ropes into her schemes. Rosie isn’t very nice to Phillipe, who is hiding inside himself after being taken from an unfit mother, or her other neighbor, Cynthia, a chatterbox who gets on Rosie’s nerves. We see Rosie struggle with friendship, being too focused on herself and insensitive to the feelings of others. As she gets to know Phillipe, and then Swanson, she slowly begins to care for others and lose some of her selfishness. She learns about friendship, becoming more accepting of others, and being kinder and more patient. In addition to Rosie, we also see growth in Rosie’s grandfather, who relaxes somewhat and has a better relationship with Rosie, Phillipe, who comes out of his shell, and Swanson, who learns to trust. Rosie does find Augustus and is reunited with him thanks to the help of her new friends. Though Rosie’s relationship with Augustus is somewhat changed as a result of his experiences while he was away, it adds more depth to the story as it forces Rosie to mature, learning to share her love with others who also have need.

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The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

This book reminds me a bit of A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron, but for middle school readers. It is written by a British author and set in the U.K. The book is narrated by a girl named Daisy and opens with her death at the age of 12 in a car accident. Daisy’s soul is sent back to earth as a newborn puppy. But she still remembers her life as Daisy. She spends the beginning part of the book trying to get back to her parents. She has been born as a dog in the same town where she lived as a girl and sees a newspaper article about her accident. Her father survived, but is now paralyzed.

Daisy starts out her life as a dog with a mean boy and his mother, but she runs away from them and ends up with a homeless man named Jack who is kind to her and introduces her to 14-year-old Kip, new to the streets after running away from foster care following the death of his mother. Daisy ends up being named Ray by Kip and she becomes his dog for better or worse as they travel in search of Kip’s father, who doesn’t know he exists.

Daisy does actually meet her parents at one point in the book, when she is at an animal shelter, but the reader comes to realize as the book goes on the bittersweet truth of Daisy’s new existence: being with her parents again isn’t meant to be – this is a new life. Daisy slowly begins to lose the memory of who she was and becomes more dog-like in her thinking and actions. The reader sees her transform from human in a dog’s body to dog. A beautiful and poignant story of life, loss, and love, with serious issues handled gently. The story is also interspersed with humor from Daisy’s first-person narration, so it is not too heavy. It does also have a happy ending when Kip tracks down his father and he and Ray are happily taken in by him and his family. We also see Daisy’s parents again, who adopt a service dog, so their lives go on also.

 

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The Borrowed House by Hilda Van Stockum

This book is set in Holland during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Janna is 12 and lives in Germany. She is a member of the Hitler Youth and believes in her country and her leader. She has been apart from her parents for two years. They are well-known actors and are traveling, entertaining the German troops. They are currently in Amsterdam and have procured a house to live in, so they send for Janna. The house they are living in belonged to the Van Arkel family, a well-to-do Dutch family who have been evicted from the house from the occupying Germans for their own use. Janna and her parents share the house with another German family, a couple and their young son. Janna’s mother is close with a Bavarian officer, whose connections got them the house. As Janna looks through the house and sees the possessions of the Van Arkel family, including a girl her age whose room she is occupying, she begins to wonder about the family. She also sees how the Nazis treat people out in the street. This, combined with discussions with her Dutch tutor and overhearing the Bavarian officer criticize the Nazis, leads to a slow realization that what she has been taught in the Hitler Youth is not the truth. She and her mother develop compassion for the victims of the Nazis, while their father remains loyal. When Janna discovers that a boy named Josef is hiding in a secret room in the house and then learns that he is Jewish, her moral integrity is tested verses the Nazi propaganda that has been indoctrinated in her. Janna chooses to protect Josef and keep his secret from her parents.

An exciting story that is not too graphic in its depiction of Nazi horror to be inappropriate for mature middle schoolers, though it does mention Nazi euthanasia of older people and the gas chambers in the death camps, so children should have already been introduced to the Holocaust before reading it. A criticism is that it really doesn’t show the true Nazi horror – Janna and her mother as well as the Bavarian officer are sympathetic to the victims and Janna’s father is ignorant of the true evil that is happening. The book may paint too flattering a portrait of German citizens, since many Germans hated Jews and informed on them and condoned or participated in the violence and horror, but as a coming-of-age story about Janna and her self-actualization, it a fine story, and as historical fiction, it teaches about the Dutch Resistance and the dangers of prejudice in a manner suitable for middle schoolers.